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 South Park series: Passing the torch
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3 years ago

South Park series: Passing the torch

BILLINGS - This December, after more than 35-years of working to improve South Billings, Marion Dozier will retire.

Dozier, a former city councilwoman and founding member of the Southside Task Force (and current president), says her time fighting for a neighborhood has been a labor of love more than a career-but she's ready to get down to some serious knitting and enjoying the community she's helped shape.

"We are just 5 minutes from downtown," said Dozier. "We've got the library there. We've got the freeway right here. We've got access to the west end if you want to go to the west end. We've got a post office right here. You know, we do have grocery stores on the fringe of the neighborhood. It's absolutely a perfect neighborhood to build up instead of let it, you know fall apart."

Although having confidence the park will bounce back with continued effort, Dozier wonders about the rate of that growth becomes a haven for rental properties.

"I think we're at a turning point with it," said Dozier. "We've got developers coming in and they're chopping up houses and putting in apartments. There is not adequate parking, they're going to crowd up because it's cheap and they can make more money."

As a solution, Dozier would like to see younger families move to the neighborhood, families to invest in the amenities the park has to offer.

That sort of work has actually been in play in the Southside since 1979.

That's when the beginnings of what is now Community Leadership and Development Incorporated began helping families move into the neighborhood.

Eric Basye, now the executive director of CLDI, and his wife Shelly (a doctor at the Billings Clinic), moved to Billings 2-years ago to start a church (Billings Fellowship Church) and continue that work.

"We call it incarnational ministry, just life on life ministry, to do life here-to raise your kids here," said Eric Basye.

The Basye family moved to Billings from Memphis, Tennessee without knowing about the LCDI, under the impression they would be beginning the work their predecessors began 30 -years before.

The family, as well as another couple who moved from Memphis with the Basye's , see the potential of South Park and the surrounding neighborhood if they can infuse younger families into homes and get them to apply themselves in an already established community.

"It does have a rich tradition, it also has a great pride in who they are as a community, unique to, I would say, any other community in Billings," said Basye.

The work LCDI, and other churches and community organizations in the neighborhood, is paying off according to John Perez.

Perez, who has lived across the street from South Park for 64-years, says he's happy to see new children at South Park.

"It's coming back-- this whole side (of houses along the park) is all young people now," said Perez. "And I've notice the candy I was giving out this year (for Halloween) was moving pretty good too now."

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3 years ago

South Park series: Fighting the stigma

BILLINGS- The stigma attached to south Billings residential neighborhoods is that you shouldn't go near them.

"There's a perception of the south side, you know, being such a bad place to live, and it's not a bad place to live," said Southside Task Force President Marion Dozier. "I mean, there are bad places all across town. Crime is not just on the Southside."

The statement is most definitely true, as the crime map on KTVQ.com clearly shows that crime seems to be a part of most neighborhoods in Billings.

However, one does notice, especially after searching summer month data (when parks are more used) on the crime map, that the Southside and South Park have quite the spike in criminal activity relative to other parts of town.

"All the parks in the downtown area, they all get their problems with our transients and people who are going into our parks and drinking," said Sergeant Neil Lawrence of the Billings Police Department.

The most common crimes reported over the summer, which vice-president of the Southside Task Force Mike Yakawich calls the most tense period of the year in the park, were Assault and Disturbing the Peace.

Many of those crimes involved drugs and alcohol.

"We had an issue with alcohol, and broken bottles," said Mike Yakawich of the Southside Task Force. "And of course, it's the community too, you know, we have to police our own community, we just don't want to put it on the city."

John Perez, a resident who has lived across the street from South Park for 64-years, says he walks around the park every night.

"It makes me feel better, and I see what's going on around the neighborhood, and I say who lives here still and who doesn't live here," said Perez.

Whether he knows it or not, Yakawich says Perez is part of a tradition which extends back for generations.

"They (life-long residents) remember they would have a lady of the park: lady or a grandma who would take care of the park," said Yakawich.

However, Yakawich doesn't believe having a full-time watchful eye is necessary anymore.

"I'd have to give credit to the city police because of the bike patrol," said Yakawich. "In some ways, it replaces that concept of a mom or a dad walking the park."

"The police are right there on them, they're getting them and they're running them out," said Perez of vagrants in the park.

Sergeant Lawrence, who is in charge of the bike patrol unit, says the versatility of the patrol gives it's officers an advantage.

"By the time they notice that you're the police, you're already there and are able to take care of the problem."

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3 years ago

South Park series: Improving the park

BILLINGS- John Perez has lived across the street from South Park in Billings for 64-years.

He grew up playing in the park, swimming there in the summer.

His kids held their graduation parties at the gazebo in the park-and he still walks it every night just to make sure everything in the neighborhood is alright.

Of course, when he makes the rounds now, he no longer sees the gazebo or the wading pool that used to be in the park, because they no longer exist.

The pool is still there, but it's much smaller than it used to be and has been a subject of vandalism.

"We need that gazebo, and we also need that pool fixed," said Perez. "I just can't believe we have a half a pool now."

Southside Task Force vice-president and neighborhood leader Mike Yakawich says it was hard for those who use South Park frequently to adjust to the change.

"When you pull something out like the gazebo, it does impact the people, feeling like, what else are they going to take out now," asked Yakawich.

Funding for public parks is currently spread fairly thin.

Director of Parks, Recreation and Public Lands for Billings, Mike Whitaker, says the best way to go about accomplishing change is through private and public partnerships.

"Our biggest problem is the lack of funding, and currently we really don't have a capital budget for new items in the parks," said Whitaker.

Whitaker referenced the new dog park at High Sierra Park and the disc golf course at Pioneer Park as successful examples of public and private partnerships in Billings.

That's the route the Southside Task Force has decided to take, as they formed a committee deep into the process of raising money for a new gazebo in Billings.

Southside Task Force president and founding member of the task force, Marion Dozier, says regaining amenities in South Park is vital to the survival of the neighborhood.

"Pretty soon we've got this big, beautiful park with nothing in it," said Dozier. "This is not becoming a place people want to settle. People live here until they can move to some other place."

Currently, the group has $188,000 committed to the project, with around $10,000 of that coming directly from community contributions.
The estimated cost of the new gazebo is $196,000.

But Yakawich says he is hoping the gazebo comes in under budget so the extra money can go toward fixing a myriad of other problems in the park: old horse shoe pits, chipped curbs, cracked basketball courts and a lack of picnic tables... just to name a few.

If the funding is successful, the question remains how the neighborhood will keep their park from other issues-such as the crime rate in the park.

We'll bring you that story tomorrow right here on KTVQ.com and on our 10 o'clock news.

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